SUTTONS BAY — Trailing by six. Facing 3rd-and-24. Just 25 seconds left to play. A berth in the eight-player state final on the line.
That seemed like the perfect time for Garrick Opie to call a trick play. A play his Suttons Bay Norsemen only run “once or twice” in practice during the week. A play that has never been successful in live game action, but only because the Norsemen have never run it in live game action.
The ol’ hook-and-ladder.
“You’ve got a joker card in your pocket and go, ‘Oh man, I don’t know if I’m going to lay this down or not,’” Opie said. “When you do lay it down, you hope it works.”
And work it did.
After being sacked for a loss of 14 yards on the previous play, quarterback Dylan Barnowski found an open Brayden Opie for the hook. Opie pitched the ball to Shawn Bramer for the ladder, and the next five seconds sent the Suttons Bay sideline and fandom into a frenzy Saturday at Suttons Bay High School.
Not a single Rudyard defender was in sight. Nothing but daylight, a green field and a date with destiny lay in front of Bramer, who took the ball to the house for a 69-yard, game-tying touchdown with just 16.9 seconds left to play.
“I just got it off. I just got it off to Shawn, and then when I turned and saw nothing but open field, all I could do was smile,” Brayden Opie said. “I just started laughing. It was amazing.”
Bramer could only describe the play as “crazy.”
“I saw (Brayden) catch the ball. He tossed it to me, and then ... then I just put the wheels on,” Bramer said.
The Norsemen had the chance to take the lead, but they came up short on a two-point conversion that would have put them ahead 38-36. Instead, Suttons Bay had to settle for a dramatic 11-yard, walk-off touchdown catch by Brayden Opie in overtime to seal the 42-36 win and secure reservations at the Superior Dome for the state championship game Nov. 20.
“We chose that joker card today, and it came out for us,” Garrick Opie said. “At that point, you call and you hope. It’s not me. It’s them. Those guys made it happen.”
The fourth-ranked Norsemen (12-0) came into the game as heavy favorites against unranked Rudyard (9-3), but found themselves trailing 14-0 early after back-to-back touchdown runs from Bulldog quarterback EJ Suggitt. Rudyard opened the game with an 80-yard drive that ate up nearly six minutes and then capitalized on a Suttons Bay turnover to take the two-score lead.
The Norsemen responded when Barnowski found August Schaub for a 55-yard catch that put them at the Rudyard 5-yard line. Lleyton Krumlauf scored on the next play for a rushing TD, and a successful two-point conversion put Suttons Bay back in business.
But Suggitt and the Bulldogs continued to pound the football and eat clock, eventually building back a 28-16 lead on an eight-minute scoring drive that left just 1:35 in the first half.
The Norsemen looked like they would trail at the break, but Lady Luck intervened when Rudyard’s Brett Mayer tipped Barnowski’s pass into the waiting hands of Hugh Periard for a 34-yard touchdown reception — cutting the deficit in half to 28-22.
After a scoreless third quarter, the Norsemen worked their way down the field on steady run plays with solid gains. Opie made a diving catch on a 4th-and-6 to keep the drive alive, and then Barnowski found Opie in stride for a 26-yard TD strike. The ensuing and successful two-point conversion gave the Norse their first lead of the game with 6:05 left to play.
The Bulldogs and Suggitt went back to their bread and butter, winding down the clock under a minute and eventually scoring to take the lead right back at 36-30 with 42.5 seconds to go.
“I hate to think we’re losing, because that just brings the whole team down,” Brayden Opie said. “Every single moment of this game, I just thought in my head, ‘We’re winning this. We’re winning this. We’re winning this.’ Just over and over and over again.”
The mantra worked. And so did the hook-and-ladder, which sent the game to overtime and set up Brayden’s game-winning catch in the back of the end zone.
“That was the best feeling ever,” he said. “We love adversity. We love coming back and winning games like that. This was the perfect game to lead us into the state championship and give us the momentum we need to win it.”
Garrick Opie didn’t have the words when asked what it was like to watch his son, Brayden, succeed and win in such a meaningful way.
“It’s indescribable,” he said, tears of pride welling up in his eyes. “It’s awesome. It’s mind-blowing.”
Brayden finished with five catches for 61 yards. Bramer had two catches for 131 yards and also had 66 yards on 13 carries. Barnowski completed 12 of 18 passes for 317 yards and five scores. The Suttons Bay defense, which had its hands full with Suggitt, had six players with double-digits in tackles. Cam Alberts led with 27 followed by Periard (17), Ben Murphy (16), Bramer (14), Krumlauf (12) and Schaub (10).
The Norse go north to the Superior Dome at Northern Michigan University where they will take on No. 2 Adrian Lenawee Christian (12-0) in a rematch of last season’s state championship game which Suttons Bay lost 47-0. Suttons Bay also lost in the title game in 2019, falling 26-14 to Colon. Brayden’s older brother, Bryce, was on that team.
“I feel like third time’s the charm,” Brayden Opie said. “The community deserves every little bit of it. We love our community. We love the people on the field. We love the people in the stands. Everyone who’s with us, we love ‘em.”